HARRISBURG - Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Corbett on Friday accused some jobless Pennsylvanians of choosing to collect unemployment checks rather than going back to work, prompting swift criticism from his Democratic opponent and one of the state's top labor leaders.
"The jobs are there. But if we keep extending unemployment, people are just going to sit there," Corbett told Harrisburg radio station WITF at a campaign stop in Elizabethtown. "I've literally had construction companies tell me, 'I can't get people to come back to work until . . . they say, "I'll come back to work when unemployment runs out." ' "
Democratic candidate Dan Onorato charged Corbett with being out of touch at a time when Pennsylvania's unemployment rate is at 9.1 percent, a 26-year high.
"I don't know what world Tom Corbett is living in," Onorato said in a statement. "Our economy is struggling, families in Pennsylvania are hurting, and Harrisburg insiders like Tom Corbett aren't doing anything to help them."
AFL-CIO president Richard Bloomingdale told the Associated Press that he was astonished by Corbett's remarks.
"Unemployed workers would rather be working, feeding their families, and paying the mortgage than living with the uncertainty of not having a job, earning less than half their wages, and going without health care and pensions," Bloomingdale said.
He said more than 25,000 people are jobless in Lancaster County, in which Elizabethtown is located.
Corbett's spokesman, Kevin Harley, said later the owner of a plumbing company, whose name he did not know, told Corbett he had workers who did not want to return until their unemployment ran out. He said other employers had told Corbett they have jobs available and cannot find people to fill them.
David Smith, a state Labor and Industry Department spokesman, said unemployment provides temporary payments of about half of a worker's weekly pay, with a maximum of $564. He said recipients cannot refuse any offer of suitable employment.
The state's extended unemployment benefits program ended on June 30, eliminating benefits for 104,000 people. By the end of the year, if the Congress fails to extend the compensation program, 414,200 Pennsylvania residents will lose their benefits.
Contact staff writer Amy Worden at 717-783-2584 or firstname.lastname@example.org.